Updated 20 June 2005
Updated 4 November 2006
Going to war -- whether for oil, water, motherhood and apple pie, opportunities for fraud, control, and domination, as a threat to liberty, or just because someone is bored with the status quo -- is always a controversial decision. It tends to bring out some real anger and a willingness to fight just in order to preserve the peace.
Admittedly, some of the reasons for going to war is enough to make one want to reach for their shotgun. One example was beautifully illustrated by a B.C. Comic Strip which appeared in the Sunday newspapers about the time of the Vietnam War. In the first picture, we saw a caveman with a philosophical air write on a piece of wood the message: "Where do you stand on a totally unprovoked and unjust war?" The caveman then waited in the following scenes for his message to float across the sea to an unknown land, and then finally for an answer to float back to him on the incoming tide. The answer was, "We're ready when you are."
Humor, as always, has managed to capture the essence of the situation.
On a more serious note, David M. Kennedy, an historian at Stanford University, has noted some very disturbing facts concerning the premier war-making organization in the world (the United State military):
The combination of a lack of political accountability, the ease with which the citizenry can wage war on another portion of the planet, and the use of others to do the dirty work makes the very idea of yet another war almost inevitable. In essence, if it's not in my backyard, it's not a problem. And for those who choose to partake in the conflict, it's just another opportunity to meet one's life-long (or life-short) dream.
This is because Conflict is a human desire. War, in fact, can be thought of as conflict raised to its highest levels. In this case, war becomes simply cooperative conflict.
The latter might seem to be a great example of an oxymoron, unless one understands that each side of a conflict may be very cooperative and still be at no-holds-barred war with the other. Furthermore, even in open warfare there is an astounding amount of cooperation between opposing sides in the form of the Rules of War! One can actually plot the evolution of war based upon the breaking of previous rules of war -- with the rule breakers benefiting from the new lack of restraints, until these days there are fewer and fewer rules to dictate wartime tactics and strategies. Apparently, all's fair in love and war!
As a cooperative effort, war also affords the opportunity for frustrated and seemingly impotent people to be on the winning side. Such an anomaly explains the popularity of sports, where, for example, the long suffering fans of a team like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers can now bask in the glory of a Super Bowl win. After years of drought, the fans can also now take full credit for the win -- acknowledging parenthetically the contribution of the team members, luck, and circumstances. It's all a matter of status for the fan or war-mongering supporter, an opportunity to feel superior or important.
The general level of frustration among any given populace also explains the popularity of destroying, obliterating, and in general blowing things up. This ranges from car crashes in the movies to brutally vivid gladiator and war movies to the urge to see race car crashes in the real to participating in guerilla tactics and even becoming a suicide bomber. Violence in life is often a response to a lack of any sense of power over one's destiny or happiness. Blowing something up relieves this accompanying frustration.
The best part of the natural irony about war, however, is the degree to which people who do not want war will often go in order to try and prevent war. There are peace marches -- where marching is almost inevitably an army term. There are peace vigils -- not unlike standing sentry to guard a post or war vessel. And there are the peaceniks that are willing to lay down their lives for their beliefs in peace. Dying for a peace cause, however, sounds strangely like dying in war for a political cause of another or even similar sort. What is, for example, the fundamental difference between a Kamikaze pilot and a monk ready to be a human torch as a protest against war?
Obviously, both use violent means in order to proclaim their religious or spiritual faith. And both are revered and honored for their actions by at least some of their peers.
Violence really tends to focus one's attention. It's called the instinct for survival.
The tricky part for those who desire peace is to recognize that too much peace is a real downer. No kidding. An oversupply of peace is seriously non-motivational. There's nothing to do! One is reminded of the Far Side cartoon showing a man floating on a cloud with his new angelic wings already attached, and whose immediate thought is, "Gee, I wish I had brought a magazine."
In effect, peace is boring. Without conflict in our lives, there's just nothing much to do.
[Making love does have a following, admittedly, but try doing it as your only source of entertainment. The end result is very much like playing a simple tune of four or five notes, a pleasing melody -- but playing it over and over again, until like Chinese Water Torture, it becomes in short order: tedious, agonizing, and then maddening.]
Peacemakers are also faced with the dilemma that while there are on average 310,000 deaths worldwide each year from wars and conflicts, there are roughly four times as many (1.26 million) traffic-accident deaths worldwide each year.  This is the kind of statistic that makes peace marches less popular -- if only because of their effects on traffic, and the resulting ill will among some motorists, who then promptly go out and cause havoc in the streets.
There is also the issue of Free Will. If someone really gets their jollies by going to war and playing with life and death issues up close and personal, who is to tell them that they cannot do that? Who believes they can throw the first stone -- or refrain from doing so -- or set themselves up as the person who decides what someone else does? There are people -- some even sane -- who are eager to go to war. Who says they can't?
Keep in mind that war is an exciting business. General Patton of World War II (and Hollywood) fame absolutely delighted in war. From his viewpoint, all other forms of human endeavor were minimal in comparison to an all out war, major battle, or do-or-die skirmish. Of course, being a general is infinitely better than being a private -- the difference in perspective being somewhat extreme. Private Jessica may have pulled off a million dollar book deal, but for the most part the cannon fodder of war -- those without rank or power to prevent their finding themselves in harms' way -- get a really lousy deal. They too often end up dead, maimed, or psychologically scarred for the rest of their lives. Worse yet, as in the case of the The Mother of All Battles, they can die or have their lives shortened by radiation poisoning -- such poisoning due entirely to the use of depleted uranium by the United States.
There are a lot of people who have become bored with the Hollywood version of massive violence, but war movies still have a strange appeal to enough movie goers to ensure that more and more war movies will be made. War movies are a real money maker.
Come to think of it, so is all out bloody war in the real. War makes a lot of money for those who invest appropriately. Halliburton -- Vice President Dick Cheney's former employer -- is making out like a (or as a) bandit in the Iraqi War. Bechtel and others are doing the same. As one pundit has put it, "In the chaos of war, there is opportunity." [In fact, the Chinese glyph for "chaos" is the same as that for "opportunity". The ancient Chinese knew a thing or two.] Obviously, President Madison knew what he was talking about in the opening quote of this essay.
War also has the ability to really garner your attention. Being the target of bullets, shells, missiles, bombs, and other weapons of individual and mass destruction focuses the mind wonderfully. Often television shots of the carnage is enough to provide a pretty good hint of the situation -- if only because of our ability to imagine being in harm's way ourselves.
When one is on a war footing, suddenly everything one does takes on incredible importance. Philosophical issues of life and death (and whose life and death) can be much more conveniently defined -- thus saving countless hours of original or creative thought. Instead of agonizing over the morality of what is in the highest and best interests of all concerned, one need only concern themselves with trying to determine who lives to fight another day. Enemies can be easily categorized and subtle differences ignored. War makes life simpler -- at least in terms of day-to-day decisions. "Me good, them bad, me shoot them" makes a lot of sense for the willfully ignorant.
The devil's alleged position on the subject of war is best described in C. S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters, where a novice demonic entity corresponds with his uncle in hell. This little hell raiser [pardon the pun] is, however, severely reprimanded when he manages to start a small war all by himself! The reason for the reprimand is that in war, people do incredibly heroic things. War provides countless opportunities for people to do wonderfully moral acts, and simultaneously to forget many of their petty and selfish concerns. "Greater love hath no man than that he lay down his life for his friends."
Where's a better place to have the opportunity to lay down one's life for one's friends than in war? Particularly when inquisitions are currently out of fashion. On the other hand dying in war to save others is still very much in fashion -- despite the gigantic leaps in cynicism in recent decades. War is still an opportunity to commit selflessness.
A fundamental tenet of more than one religion places an incredible spiritual honor on those who die for a cause, country, ideal, countrymen, or fellow soldier. Strangely, less honor is bestowed on those who die primarily because of stupidity or carelessness. The irony is that in war it's often hard to tell the difference. [You can take that statement any way you like.]
Still, if you're at war and die, the chances are good that you'll be honored. On the other hand, if you die at the water cooler at the office everyone may be surprised, but they are unlikely to give you any honors, or for that matter, even take much notice. [Now leaping out of the tenth story window with the water cooler in your arms is a slightly different matter. The latter is still, however, primarily a matter of surprise and less one of glory.]
A world without war -- the beginnings of WW 0 -- is not a likely scenario, at least in the short term. There will undoubtedly be moments of peace -- but such temporary respites are often just pit stops which allow us to build back up to a fever pitch for more war.
Everything points to one thing: Conflict is the human condition. The principal reason war is an undesirable or destructive conflict is that it's too often out of control. -- as opposed to constructive conflict which can actually be beneficial. War too often includes many a so-called innocent bystander, a civilian (who does or does not work for the war machine in a direct or an indirect way -- like the guy at the water cooler), or other non-combatants who get killed, maimed or wounded. The more pragmatic problem is that those who are inadvertently being killed do not include often enough those people in power who are placing those with less power in harm's way.
It used to be that a "leader" was someone who was out in front, a man or woman on the front lines, someone whom the followers could see and receive their direction and/or motivation. The idea of calling the guy or gal hunkered down in the bunker far, far away from the battle field a leader is ludicrous. The only real leader is the one who leads the charge. But as long as the decisions to go to war are left to those who avoid like the plague even showing up for marching drill, there will be stupid, pointless, mischievous, and thoroughly wrong wars -- or in another parlance, Bush Wars.
Fundamentally, there's really not much glory in dying for a cause whose sole beneficiaries are those who have never -- and will never -- see the wrong end of a weapon pointed at them. Ultimately, the decision to go to war must always rest solely with the sovereign individual, who knowingly -- with all the facts at hand -- decides when, where, and under what circumstances they are willing to risk their life. (This includes a "no" vote.) It's also sad to see how poorly returning veterans of so-called "popular wars" are treated. Such is the State of the Union and Preemptive Rule.
And if you don't agree with me, just step outside and we'll settle it once and for all. Better yet, my gang will meet your gang at the usual spot. Be sure and inform my gang at that time that while I had hoped to be with them in their moment of glory, unfortunately I have another pressing appointment on that particular day. Still, my thoughts and prayers will be with them. Let me know how things work out.
This treatise wouldn't be complete without a few choice quotes on the subject :
v "You can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake." -- Jeannette Rankin
v "America is addicted to wars of distraction." -- Barbara Ehrenreich
v "It is isolation that is critical to war. You can't be abusive when you realize your connectedness." -- David Kadlec
v "They wrote in the old days that it is sweet and fitting to die for one's country. But in modern war, there is nothing sweet nor fitting in your dying. You will die like a dog for no good reason." -- Ernest Hemingway
v "Human beings are perhaps never more frightening than when they are convinced beyond doubt that they are right." -- Laurens van der Post
v "A good deal of tyranny goes by the name of protection." -- Crystal Eastman
v "If any question why we died, tell them, because our fathers lied." -- Rudyard Kipling
v "We are here on earth to do good to others. What the others are here for, I don't know." -- W. H. Auden
Or forward to:
 James Madison, the fourth president of the United States, "The Most Dreaded Enemy of Liberty," August 1793 (taken from http://www.newnation.org/Archives/NNN-Guest-Column-28.html
 Notebook, "Numbers", Time Magazine, 2003.
 "Sunbeams", The Sun [Magazine], May 2003.
 David M. Kennedy, "Excerpts from the Aspen Ideas Festival", The Atlantic Monthly, October 2006.
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